So, the secret's finally out: my yeshiva high school had a prom. And I was one of the organizers. On paper, this would have constituted a major rebellion, were it not for the support of most of my classmates' parents. If anyone--classmate or parent--had strenuously objected to our efforts, or if the administration had received official notification of our subversive plans to dance with our classmates, we probably would have had to cancel. And there was the possibility, however slight, of suspension in those last days before graduation.
It was a homegrown affair: we rented space at a Conservative synagogue in Rockland County, NY, where a friend's mother was the Hebrew school principal. We got a caterer, also through a personal connection. We got a DJ. We bought pre-printed invitations in a stationery store, and with the calligraphy skills I had attained in fifth grade, I filled them out with the relevant details and addressed the envelopes. (To this day, I have random addresses and zip codes floating around my head, cluttering space that undoubtedly could have been used for Pulitzer-winning ideas.)
I bought a dress that was black, largely lace, and fairly revealing considering all the dresses I'd had before (or even since). We had a piece of material added in the back to make it a little more modest, but still, this dress would not have won me any Miss Tznius 1989 competitions.
There was only one boy I wanted to go with from school, but there was literally no chance that he would ever ask me. So I asked a friend of mine from camp. I had had a huge crush on him the summer before, and had even dared to tell him about it. Even though he didn't feel the same way, we stayed close, and were both going to Rutgers in the fall: I couldn't think of anyone better to have at my side as I left high school behind. But his mother told him he couldn't go because he had too much work to do before he graduated. (I still think that may have been an excuse.)
Next choice: another guy from camp. He was cute, a good dancer, and I was comfortable with him. He said yes...but not before a "we have to talk" encounter, wherein he made it clear that we were just friends, and despite any John Hughes-movie-esque expectations I might have acquired, the prom was just like any other dance, not inherently romantic or magical. For the first time, I began to see that, being in yeshiva high school and raised on a steady diet of magazines and movies praising prom as the pinnacle of the high school experience, I was incredibly naive, and people knew it.
The talk was good. It was the right thing for him to do. It was something that I needed, even though it made me said to be viewed as someone who would need such a conversation, and to have the idea of romance surgically removed before my friend would agree to be my date seemed somewhat anticlimactic. Still, it also removed any pressure to be or look a certain way, and I felt freer to enjoy myself and have fun with my friends. But no high school movie ever ended with everyone dancing platonically.
I look back and am happy with how it all turned out. None of us got suspended for our illegal prom planning activities. My prom date is still a friend I see at least once a year. The guy who turned me down for prom became my neighbor at college, my first boyfriend, and my first ex within two years; he got married last August, and I signed his civil marriage license. And me? I'm still here, still a little naive and skeptical about the love and romance that is long overdue me, but maintaining a small, stubborn, near-immortal notion that when it happens for me, I won't mind having waited.
And perhaps the most miraculous circumstance of all-- all these years later, my prom dress still fits.
(This walk down memory lane brought to you by this article from Beliefnet about "Prim Proms," which examines how religious teens of three faiths celebrate their graduations from high school.)